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5 Traveller Rules

March 8, 2010

The first rule is: design games like adventures. It might sound simplistic but novice and long-time Game Masters alike have stared across the table wondering why their players seem bored. This is actually quite common as the assumed far trader model, combined with the enormity of a sandbox the size of a universe, can easily become overwhelming.

The second rule is: stories are the life’s blood of a Traveller game. Before you get started on how you much prefer the sandbox method of playing, let me stop you – stories are essential for a Sci Fi game no matter how you craft them. Watch an episode of Star Trek and tell me you don’t see larger stories at work regardless of what choices the crew of the Enterprise makes; this example also serves well as it demonstrates that any good game amongst the stars should have multiple over-reaching arcs.

The third rule is: don’t build dungeons. This may sound silly, but if you started gaming as a fantasy player, particularly of the D&D variety, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to fall back into dungeon designing. Before long, every adventure is populated with searching and destroying nests of errant belters/mad scientists/pirates/renegade pop stars in their base on the asteroid/orbital station/corsair/tour bus; sure, they may be scientists instead of orcs, but you’re right back to moving through a relatively static environment and clearing rooms.

The fourth rule is: populate your world with personalities. There are no monsters in Traveller. Instead, the bad guys are just that – bad guys. They have motives, reasons for being, and a history of how they wound up in the player’s way. If you treat them as such you not only wind up with a more believable plot but your players will likely have to use multiple approaches to solving problems that go beyond drawing their snub pistol.

The fifth rule is: life is messy. There’s a reason Classic Traveller and Mongoose Traveller have malfunction charts and encounter tables. Use them. You don’t need to overdo it but semi-regular chance happenings are part of life. We never know who we might bump into in the grocery store or when our car might breakdown; the same should be true with your players. I enjoy keeping track of these things and letting some of them become persistent problems throughout the game. The pushy guy at the Down Port on Tavvol III is always the one to greet the ship; and why does that hydro-seal keep breaking on the comm manifold every couple of weeks?

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2010 6:20 pm

    I’d be curious to see a larger discussion of your first point: “Design Games Like Adventures”

  2. March 8, 2010 10:03 pm

    Ed, not a problem. I’m planning on expanding on all five with examples to help illustrate how you can take advantage of each.

  3. March 9, 2010 9:41 am

    Excellent advice for any large canvas game, really. I’ll be checking out those expanded articles as well.

    I find that a gentlemen’s agreement between GM and players is also useful in games like this, because you can go so easily off-track. Sometimes I give my players suggestions of where they might go, and they roleplay it as their idea/decision. Sometimes (and more in advance), I’ll ask for suggestions from them and incorporate them into the campaign. That way, you can plan adventures in certain locales and the players actually go there. (I’m playing Doctor Who RPG right now, so my canvas is pretty big!)

  4. March 9, 2010 2:53 pm

    One of my players has recently said that the campaign feels a bit like D&D in space. Aaargh! Please help me save my campaign. :)

  5. jonbrazer permalink
    March 9, 2010 6:26 pm

    All good points. And a great read.

  6. March 10, 2010 3:25 am

    I agree with your 1:st, 2:nd 5:th rule.

    I do not agree with your 3:rd rule. I think a few dungeons are fine. What would Twilight’s Peak have been without the final dungeon? But if the adventure only is a dungreon crawl (like Shadows) then it is not really Traveller anymore.

    I do not agree with your 4:th rule either. It is not only sophonts that can be the monsters of Traveller. There are real monsters as well. There are rules for generating them, and lots of examples in the old JTAS. Double Adventure The Chamax Plague / Horde is aslo a nice example of how monsters can be used.

  7. March 10, 2010 8:44 am

    @Siskoid That’s not bad advice. I’m going to be talking more about taking time between games to figure out what your players might want. Knowing what your group likes and designing for them is always a good idea.

    @Alex In case you can’t tell, this post was inspired by your earlier post. I’m going to be writing more in-depth about each of these rules and I’ll try to include examples of possible ideas with each one.

    @jonbrazer Thanks, I hope the expansions have the same impact.

    @BeRKA I agree; I’m only saying that you have to avoid falling into that old D&D game-building mentality when conceiving dungeons populated with monsters. I’m actually using the Chamax in the longer version of my explanation of these five points, but to be honest I’d forgotten about Twilight’s Peak; I am going to include a snip about Legends of the Sky Raiders as a good example, as I still, after all these years, think it’s a good design for a Traveller adventure.

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